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Gates Foundation

Odds are you've heard measles mentioned in the news recently. And what they say is true: Cases are on the rise. The maps don't lie.

Here's what measles looked like 5 years ago:


Fast forward to today:

Some blame it all on poor herd immunity.

Herd immunity ... what?! It's a term that has been floating around a lot lately. It's basically when large percentages of a community have become immune to a contagious disease through a vaccination. Because they are immune, there is little opportunity for an outbreak, and they are able to protect the people around them who are unable to safely receive the vaccination.

So when a person doesn't get vaccinated against a disease — but could — it can weaken the “herd" and look something like this:

Situation 1: No one is immunized. Contagious disease spreads through the population.

Situation 2: Some of the population gets immunized. Contagious disease spreads through some of the population.

Situation 3: Most of the population gets immunized. Spread of contagious disease is contained.

Rhett Krawitt isn't vaccinated.

In California, 7-year-old Rhett Krawitt is at risk of turning from blue to red on that chart above. It's not because he doesn't want to be vaccinated — it's because his immune system is too weak to handle it (thanks for absolutely nothing, leukemia). So he and his family must rely on the people around him to stay healthy until his body is strong enough to handle vaccines. There are hundreds of other kids just like him.

But more and more parents are deciding to not vaccinate their kids these days, for a number of reasons. And depending on the state they live in, that's legally OK. But if people are getting sick because of it ... well, then that seems like it'd cause some problems.

It comes down to the question: Should parents be required to vaccinate their kids?

Right now, it all depends where you live.

There are two main non-medical ways parents are able to say "no" to getting their kids vaccinated:

  • A religious exemption (48 states allows this)
  • A personal belief exemption (almost half of all states allow this)

It'll be interesting to see what happens to those numbers. So far in 2015, at least 19 states have introduced legislation addressing both of these exemptions. For instance, in California, where Rhett lives, legislators have introduced a measure to end the state's personal belief exemption. In Missouri, a House bill requires that parents be notified if any student at their child's school has not been immunized.

We can all agree: No one wants a sick kid.

But should kids like Rhett be able to dictate the laws for everyone?

Click here to see your state's vaccine laws — and if legislators are trying to change them.

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